Healing from trauma – an analogy

Picture yourself on a ship floating in the ocean. It is dark and you don’t know where you are. It’s the middle of the night.

Suddenly a large powerful wave hits the ship and washes you overboard. You are thrown into the pitch black sea.

In a panic, you thrash about with your arms and legs, desperately trying to stay afloat and not drown. You aren’t thinking clearly because your body is in pure survival mode. All that is important in the moment, is that you keep moving your arms to keep above water. Nothing else matters right now.

In your panic, you don’t notice that the sea is warm, the sky is clear and full of stars and the air is pleasant. None of that registers…Just stay alive…. do not drown…

All of a sudden your foot touches a hard surface and you realise that the ground is just there. You can actually stand up and the water is shallow there. So you stop the struggle, your body calms down and you begin to relax. You decide to look up and see the star-filled skies, you notice how warm and lovely the water feels against your skin. You see the luminescent plankton in the water around you. It is peaceful. You also can spot in the star-light, the beach just ahead.

Now you start walking towards the shore, but you cannot see the bottom. You start wondering if the solid ground beneath your feet will always be there as you walk. Might it give way to a steep drop? At the thought of this risk, your body already connects to the memory of the fear of drowning and the anxiety starts to set back in. What if you step into emptiness, lose your balance and drown?

As you walk, each step reminds you of the dread you experienced at the beginning. So you walk slowly at first, tentatively reaching with your foot and only putting your weight on it when you can sense the firm sea floor.

And as you keep walking, each step becomes a little easier to take. You still have a memory of the feeling of almost drowning, but it is only there intermittently and you can enjoy your surrounding again. You tell yourself that at the moment of fearing downing, you kept yourself afloat. You can swim. And while it is unlikely that the ground will drop from under your feet again, if it happens, it will be in an area that has lots of shallow water and you could quickly swim to a place where it is possible to stand. And the shore is getting closer.

Healing trauma does not mean forgetting it, does not mean never having it affect you negatively again. A part of you will always keep that memory alive, and it can serve as a both a warning, and reassurance that you, by your own will, have kept yourself afloat until finding firm ground.

You are consciously and intentionally using the energy of the trauma to assist in its healing. knowing you have tools to stay safe, does not mean you will ever have to use them. But it means you can relax into safety more and more.

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